Chris Denton has an extensive record in arts marketing spanning nearly 20 years during which he has worked with many of the UK’s biggest cultural organisations including The Barbican in London.
Chris recently launched his own international consultancy in branding, strategic marketing planning, business development and digital affairs.
He is a member of the AMA Board and in this guest blog post he looks at how his experiences around the world have influenced his current thinking.
How organisations recognise the need for change and, more importantly, make change happen will perhaps be one of the most important and defining characteristics of a successful cultural organisation over the coming years. I believe that those who can take entrepreneurial thinking from the page to the people will be at a distinct advantage as we struggle to cope with the economic plight of our times.
This theme of change has been pre-occupying me for a while now. Having been asked to provide a blog about what we here in the UK arts marketing business might learn from my experiences with other countries in which I have had the pleasure of working in during recent months, I realise that change is a theme which is becoming increasingly common to us all, despite how advanced we might be.
It is true that how we currently approach arts marketing is, for many outside of the UK, highly sophisticated and something to which many aspire. I never for one moment think that we are perfect and I often go to great pains to point out that translating great theory into successful practice is a long and difficult road down which we are all at various stages. But that said, yes we have a strong track record in relationship based marketing – using data well and building effective CRM strategies. Yes, we have embraced digital marketing and are holding our own in the struggle to win virtual hearts and minds. Yes, we have some of the world’s strongest cultural brands. This is recognised and applauded by many and we should rightly allow ourselves some sense of pride in this.
But in working with a variety of clients, large and small, in the UK and abroad, I realise that success in the future lies not so much in knowing what it is we want to achieve, but more in ensuring we give ourselves the best chance of making it happen. There is a common thread that links the successes I have had in my career and that is the willingness of those around me to accept change of one form or another and more importantly, to want to work together to make it happen. Of course, we are in the business of changing behaviour – isn’t that what marketing is all about? – but it has never been more important to change our own behaviours and approaches to how we do what we do. It is all very well ‘talking the talk’, but…
We are at a point where in order to survive; we must be adaptable and flexible. The current economic situation calls for some difficult decisions to be made. Those who can show entrepreneurial thinking and can make it happen will stand a better chance of emerging stronger on the other side. So in thinking about how far ahead we might be in the UK compared to others, I actually find myself thinking that fundamentally we are all at the same point.
Yes, we are all at a position unique to our organisation that has been shaped by a number of things – resources, experience, audience expectation and so on – but the definition of success going forward will be just how far we move from this position, the ease with which we can do this and the way in which we bring others with us.
So although there is much we can and should feel rightly proud about here in the UK, the advice I would pass on from my experiences here and abroad is to make practical, achievable and realistic plans for the future that are appropriate to YOUR organisation but which still contain ambition and aspiration. There is little point looking with envy at others if the reality of your situation is that you are already stretched and pushed to the limits. But this does not mean you cannot or should not change what you do and how you do it – and I don’t just mean in terms of marketing.
I believe that managing change and managing it well will be one of the important pre-requisites to successful arts marketing over the coming years.